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Omaha Magazine

Life Lessons Learned Through Arts

Apr 05, 2021 04:53PM ● By Kim Reiner

A new arts program and summer camp in Omaha operates with this simple idea: Not every child wants to be a star, but every child will benefit from a life enriched by the arts. McGuigan Arts Academy opened in spring 2021 with the intention of developing life skills by teaching a range of creative classes. 

Cofounder Billy McGuigan credits his exposure to the arts in middle school for sending him down an innovative path. Once a quiet student, the skills he learned and the confidence he gained through acting and arts classes led to creating and starring in popular national touring productions such as “Rave On! The Music of Buddy Holly” and “Yesterday and Today.”

McGuigan was not a class clown, or the type of student who dominated class discussions. Classmates only heard him talk when he had to give a book report, but he had something special, a creative quality that teachers noticed. He was placed in an artistically gifted program where he could work alongside an artist-in-residence at his school. 

“It was life-changing,” McGuigan recalled. “Seeing that the arts are a profession and it can be a career opened my eyes to a world that once seemed unimaginable.”

The improvisational acting and film editing classes taught him the life skills that got him to where he is today. 

As a father, he likened seeing the spark in his children’s youthful artistic pursuits to the inspiration he hopes the arts academy will provide to locals young and old.

“Remember that feeling the first time you saw your kids draw? Remember that feeling?” he asked. “We want to enhance that and keep that feeling.”

In summer 2020, McGuigan reworked his hit stage show, “Rave On!” so that it could be performed, and remain entertaining, in the spacious parking lot of Omaha Community Playhouse. Energized by the success of that outdoor production, he and a team that included Kimberly Faith Hickman, the then-artistic director at OCP, created an entirely new production for outdoors called “Don’t Stop Me Now” in about two weeks. After conceiving and rehearsing an entire show in such a short amount of time, McGuigan and Hickman realized they made a formidable duo.

They’d known each other since 2011, but never had a chance to collaborate on a large scale.

“If we combined, we knew we could be an unstoppable force,” McGuigan said. 

That’s how Hickman became the cofounder of the McGuigan Arts Academy. She brings with her a wealth of experience gained through her years of work on Broadway and off-Broadway. 

Having taught small and large classes, Hickman is excited the new academy will consist of classes of about 10 students.

“I prefer the intimate setting more. It allows the kind of impact we want to have on our students,” Hickman said. “They can build their own community within that small group. And it keeps kids safe and at a distance.”

Like McGuigan, Hickman felt her career path was influenced by specific mentors. As they planned the formation of McGuigan Arts Academy, they discussed the teachers who impacted them on their journeys. Hickman credits Ron Anderson, founder of the Springer Theatre Academy, a theater program in Georgia that McGuigan also attended. 

“He taught me everything that I know about working with students,” she said. “He taught me that every student, regardless of age, skill level, or experience, has talent and skill.”

Using Springer as their model, they started shaping the classes for their nascent academy. They devised classes for all ages, from family classes involving the really young to elementary ages on up to adults. 

The academy is housed in a bay at Countryside Village, a unique space that can be rearranged to suit the needs of each class.

“What’s important to us is that all of the artistic options are available in one safe place,” McGuigan said. 

The first classes held in the space were spring break camps and private lessons. They covered topics such as improvisation, dance, guitar lessons, and puppetry, and they were taught by the artists in McGuigan’s Rave On Productions, as well as Hickman. 

This summer, camp options will expand to include technical aspects of theater, like directing.

“I’m excited that we can contribute to helping develop people who don’t want to be on the stage,” Hickman said.

Students who attend class at McGuigan Arts Academy will get the chance to showcase what they learn. Photography students will have an exhibit, while students of theater will apply what they’ve learned to helping actual performances by Rave On Productions. 

McGuigan and Hickman are excited about The Omaha Series, a set of shows held at various nontraditional venues for theatrical productions. They’ll offer an outlet for students to show off what they’ve learned. 

Maybe, just maybe, that single outlet is all it takes.

“That little spark? You can take that little spark and it will be there the rest of your life,” McGuigan said.  

Visit mcguiganartsacademy.com for more information. 

This article originally appeared in the 2021 edition of Family Guide.